Adelaide restaurant firebombed on social media after posting about penalty rates

An Adelaide small business’s post on penalty rates went viral overnight, prompting criticism and condemnation from several hundred social media users who believed it in poor taste.

The post also prompted a campaign to vote down the restaurant’s rating on Facebook, with a torrent of users giving it one-star reviews.

Yesterday afternoon, Adelaide restaurant the Bombay Bicycle Club posted a photograph of a faux menu-board posted outside the restaurant. It lamented South Australian hospitality workers being paid 2.75 times their base rate on public holidays, making the point that it was excessive by multiplying the menu prices 2.75 times and asking restaurant goers how they would like it if the menus looked like that.

The restaurant’s post was in response to several users criticising the sign on the page.

“There has been no disrespect shown to our workers only the idiots who believe that rates of 2.75 times (over $50 an hour) are justified and are sustainable to any business,” the Bombay Bicycle Club post said. “We have no respect for those that are never happy and always want more. Fortunately our respected and valued employees are not in this group. I can only imagine how much you would scream if you were charged a rate of this multiple for anything.

“We will continue to provide excellent working conditions and secure employment for all our staff and will continue to pay them as per the award. We do however believe we have a right to an opinion and we are not looking forward to this part of the new award coming in.”

This post prompted a torrent of criticism from social media users, many of whom said the post showed “contempt” for the business’ staff. Many vowed to never return to the restaurant.

The post has since been removed, and the Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC) offered an apology late last night.

“The BBC ownership would like to apologise for our sign and Facebook post. We regret the wording. There was no intention to offend anyone.”

When contacted by SmartCompany this morning, the Bombay Bicycle Club declined to comment.

Anthony Mason from social media risk agency SR7 says the events are a lesson in how tricky it can be for small businesses to comment on contentious issues.

“I don’t think we need to be making blanket rules on not talking politics and religion at the dinner table, and applying that to social media.”

“Some businesses do operate in an inherently political environment. Say you’re a mining company –you have to address aspects of environmentalism and stuff like that. But a good social media community manager is aware of what areas to go down and what to avoid. We need to have these discussions, and businesses whose operations touch on these contentious issues need to be involved. They can’t run blind and scared from the issue.”

There are, however, ways to mitigate the risk of a post backfiring. 

“Small businesses, in particular, are emotionally challenging. But it is important that the official social media presence maintains a constructive tone,” Mason says.

“Social media managers need to possess the ability to see issues from perspectives other than the business’ own, and apply that in their editorial discretion. Content that is likely to be divisive, or that shows contempt to a social group, should be viewed critically and with the understanding that it will expose the brand to social media risk.”

Generally speaking, Mason says, it doesn’t pay to remove critical posts or posts that prompt criticism, because this can unleash another round of condemnation centred on notions of censorship.

The Bombay Bicycle Club opened in 2002, and recently underwent a 9-month multi-million dollar renovation, according to its website.

Restaurant and Catering Australia is currently appealing a decision by the Fair Work Commission to not change the industry award. Industry bodies have sought substantial changes to the penalty rates system, including excluding small businesses from the minimum wage rates contained in the award.

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